Microsoft, Vodafone Team on Mobile Web Services

Duo to develop Web services standards that will broaden opportunities for developers and mobile network operators.

Microsoft Corp. and Vodafone Group Plc. have announced a partnership aimed at driving mobile Web services and merging the worlds of PCs and mobile devices.

At the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Telecom World 2003 conference in Geneva on Monday, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates teamed up with Ian Maxwell, group strategic relationship director for Newbury, England-based Vodafone, to deliver the companies plans to create Web services standards that will broaden opportunities for developers and mobile network operators.

Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of platform strategies at Microsoft, said mobile Web services will drive convergence of PC and mobile applications and services, and deliver new integrated services. Right now, the two worlds are disparate, he said. "And theyre also disparate in the way software gets built, with different development communities," Fitzgerald said.

The new partnership "is an opportunity to bring the PC and mobile worlds closer together," said Vodafones Maxwell. "Application development is limited to either/or. Mobiles been about consumption of services, and the PC has been about the consumption of software."

Fitzgerald said the companies plan to take the standards they deliver and expose them to developers using a Web services approach.

"We plan to build on top of all existing protocol work and extend it to work in a mobile environment to drive a common approach," Fitzgerald said.

Among the key benefits of this partnership will be the ability of developers to more easily integrate mobile Web services such as authentication, messaging, location and billing into their applications, Maxwell said. These services have typically been the realm of mobile devices.

Microsoft and Vodafone said they will deliver a road map of the Web services standards they plan to deliver. The companies plan to unveil this road map at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles in two weeks (Oct. 27-30). In addition, they will release a joint white paper at the PDC.

However, in describing the companies plans for the technology, Maxwell used a term that may be somewhat sensitive around Microsoft.

"We dont intend to monopolize it, but make it available through standards to others," he said.

Other benefits of the companies efforts include ensuring the availability of a homogenous platform or software that is both PC and mobile device neutral, giving developers the ability to produce applications that go across a range of devices and "the ability to consume software in different ways and pay for it as you use it," Maxwell said.

In addition, the agreement between Microsoft, the software giant, and Vodafone, a leader in the mobile telecommunications market with 123 million customers, "extends the reach of our services to customers who may not have mobile devices," Maxwell said.

Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, a Cambridge, Mass., market research firm that focuses on XML and Web services, called the partnership interesting.

"What makes it most interesting is that Vodafone is a vocal proponent of the Liberty Alliance, which Microsoft has clearly not aligned itself with... so what can you make of that," Schmelzer asked. "We knew for a while that Vodafone was in the market for a good technology partner for their ambitious Web services initiatives. They basically see the mobile phone as a platform for delivery of rich applications. However, security, performance and reliability are three of the major technical issues that especially dog the mobile phone market for Web Services. Its not clear how those will be solved satisfactorily. Also, there is the challenge of pricing—pricing by the kilobyte is an especially bad idea for Web services, where each message can easily consume tens to hundreds of kilobytes for a simple, one-way message."

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